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Pope Francis calls for Gaza ceasefire as he leads Easter Mass following health concerns

Pope Francis called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in his traditional Easter message delivered following renewed concerns over the health of the 87-year-old pontiff.

In the message, delivered in front of tens of thousands gathered at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Francis addressed the conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, condemning war as an “absurdity.”

The Pope has been forced to skip recent events or limit his speaking due to poor health, but on Easter Sunday – the most important day in the Christian calendar – he delivered the “Urbi et Orbi” in full and appeared in good spirits, smiling and waving to the crowd.

Francis had pulled out a Good Friday service at the last minute to “to preserve his health” for the rest of the weekend’s celebrations, according to the Vatican.

The Pope has been leading Holy Week liturgies, presiding over five since Thursday, including an Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday which lasted more than two hours.

Pope Francis waves at onlookers from St. Peter's Square. - Yara Nardi/Reuters
Pope Francis waves at onlookers from St. Peter's Square. - Yara Nardi/Reuters

Papal watchers have been closely monitoring the octogenarian’s well-being since last year, when he had an operation on his abdomen and was hospitalized with bronchitis.

The Pope has been hospitalized for tests in recent weeks. He has also relied on his aides to read out some of his speeches at times when he was suffering from colds, the flu or bouts of bronchitis.

But Francis has also shown a determination to participate as fully as possible in Holy Week and Easter, which is the most intense time of year for any pope.

The Pope has insisted he has no plans to resign and sees the papacy as a ministry for life. He regularly uses a wheelchair due to mobility problems, but has told people that he governs the church with his “head” rather than his legs.

Pope Francis waves from a balcony on Easter Sunday. Francis called for an "immediate ceasefire" during his address. - Yara Nardi/Reuters
Pope Francis waves from a balcony on Easter Sunday. Francis called for an "immediate ceasefire" during his address. - Yara Nardi/Reuters

During his address on Sunday, Francis reiterated his plea for an “immediate ceasefire” in Israel-Hamas war while also calling for “access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza” and the “prompt release of the hostages.”

On the war in Ukraine, the pontiff said both sides should engage in a “general exchange of prisoners” and urged world leaders to “strengthening winds of
war.”

Children caught up in war, he said, had “forgotten how to smile.”

Francis also called for help for those suffering from “food insecurity and the effects of climate change” and asked all those with “political responsibilities” to stop the scourge of human trafficking.

The Pope later greeted the massive crowds who had gathered for the Easter celebrations from his popemobile.

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